Black Children Most Likely To Be Poor

Photo: Getty Images.
Black children in the United States were almost four times more likely to live in poverty than their Hispanic, white, and Asian counterparts in 2013. A new study from the Pew Research Center shows that while poverty levels for children dropped about 2% overall between 2010 and 2013, the percentage of Black children living in poverty stagnated. More than a third — some 38%, a staggering 4.2 million — of Black children nationwide live in poverty.

Moreover, among the larger Black population, children are the most likely to be impoverished. In 2013, the Census Bureau defined poverty as an annual combined income of $23,624 or less for a family of four with two related children.
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38% of Black children nationwide were living in poverty between 2010 and 2013. In real terms, that means a staggering 4.2 million Black children.

Pew Research Center

But Yang Jiang, PhD, a demographer with the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University, said statistics on childhood poverty and race are best analyzed using a wider lens. "It's not just about race," Dr. Jiang told Refinery29. "There are a lot of other demographic factors that contribute to the child poverty rates. Black children are more likely to experience risk factors; their parents are more likely to have less than a high school education, and they are more likely to live in single-parent households." Dr. Jiang added that on average, Black parents are also more likely to be unemployed.

In contrast to Black and Hispanic children, just about 10% of white and Asian children live at or below this poverty threshold. Hispanic children make up the largest number of poor children overall — 5.4 million.

The 2013 census also revealed that for the first time in recorded history, the number of poor Black children rose above the number of poor white children.

That number, along with the number of poor white and Asian children, dropped between the 2010 and 2013 censuses. Meanwhile, in 2013, for the first time in recorded history, the number of poor black children rose above the number of poor white children. However, Pew and Dr. Jiang agree that, as far as data goes, the 0.1 million disparity between poor white and poor Black children is not particularly significant. "I can’t say for certain what would happen next year," Dr. Jiang told Refinery29. "It’s not a good sign, at least. [Black children] are definitely not doing better than before."

In the forward to the CDF's 2015 report, "Ending Child Poverty Now," children's rights lobbyist and CDF founder and president Marian Wright-Edelman lamented the status quo: "Every other American baby is non-white, and one in two Black babies is poor, 150 years after slavery was legally abolished... America’s poor children did not ask to be born, did not choose their parents, country, state, neighborhood, race, color, or faith."

One in two Black babies is poor, 150 years after slavery was legally abolished... America’s poor children did not ask to be born, did not choose their parents, country, state, neighborhood, race, color, or faith.

Marian Wright-Edelman, Children's Defense Fund
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The report proposed six viable ways the United States could reduce child poverty by 60% — including cutting tax breaks, eliminating tax brackets for the wealthy, and reducing our military spending. All of these options, the CDF calculated, would save our country tens of billions of dollars that could be redirected towards the $77.2 billion needed to eliminate poverty among children in 2010.

"Children do better if their parents do better," Dr. Jiang said, stressing a "two-generational approach" to reducing child poverty and the disparities among impoverished children. "If parents get jobs and additional education," she says, "then their children do better in the end."

"The [two-generational approach] is a new approach to break the cycle of poverty by providing low-income families with early childhood education, job training and other services to achieve economic security and financial stability," Dr. Jiang added in an email. "This approach will focus on services and opportunities for both the parent and the child, instead of focusing primarily on one of them."

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Dr. Yang Jiang as a demographer with the Children's Defense Fund. Dr. Jiang is a demographer with the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University.
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